This one is for my buddy Roger, who just last week put in his two week’s notice at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, where he worked as a city hall reporter for two years, notching more front page stories than anyone I know.
Prior to that, Roger worked with me at The Sarasota Observer. Next to Zipper Boy, he is my oldest, truest friend in Florida. And by August he’ll be living in Miami, near his beautiful and talented writer girlfriend Rachel. I don’t know how they’ve done it, but Roger and Rachel have successfully managed a healthy long-distance relationship for what seems like an eternity. (In actuality, probably one year.)
Roger was accepted to Florida Atlantic University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Even more impressive, he was one of only a handful of students to receive a teacher assistantship.
Back in December, he asked me to write a letter of recommendation to three Miami grad schools. He was worried his journalism background might quash his chances of getting accepted to a creative writing program, so he asked me to stress the fact that despite his newspaper sensibilities, he’s really just a tortured writer; a victim of poetry, romance and longing. No more grounded or level-headed than say … Truman Capote.
“Of course I’ll write you a letter,” I chirped, meanwhile inside my chest, my heart hardened into a heavy blue brick. Sure I’ll write you a letter of recommendation, so you can move away like every other awesome and amazing friend I’ve made in Sarasota. Of course I’ll recommend you. It would be my pleasure to rub salt in my own wounds.
A few weeks later, I sent three copies of the letter to English department chairs at The University of Miami, Florida International University and FAU. I refused to let Roger read it. I told him I’d share it with him if he received at least one acceptance letter.
So as promised, here’s the one I mailed to FAU:
December 30, 2008
To whom it may concern:
The first time I met Roger Drouin, I was an entry-level reporter at a weekly newspaper on Longboat Key. Roger, the paper’s government writer, offered his pick-up truck to help move my dresser, and in a muted New England drawl, inserted a Charles Bukowski quote into the conversation.
Like most of Roger’s colleagues, I grew accustomed to his Bukowski quote habit. His propensity to introduce the poet’s words into everyday discourse was a knee-jerk colloquial quirk. And when he left our weekly newspaper three years later to write for the New York Times-owned daily in town, I secretly hoped this humbling idiosyncrasy would not be eclipsed by daily newspaper success.
Nearly five years have passed since Roger and I met in that bungalow-of-an-office out on Longboat Key, and I’ve come to learn his stock of quotes is not limited to just Bukowski. He’s as devoted to Hemingway and Hiaasen, Hunter Thompson and Tolstoy, as he is to Bukowski.
Employed as a newspaper reporter for as long I’ve known him, Roger has always worked the city hall beat. He’s a pen-to-paper traditionalist and a staple at government meetings. Though his job is more black and white than I think he’d like it to be, the grind has never snuffed out his love of fiction.
Roger writes and reports for newspapers with contagious affability and nary a complaint. When he’s not working, he scrawls poems in a tiny gray journal. On Sundays, he writes short stories and shares passages with established writers’ groups in downtown coffee shops.
To Sarasota’s daily newspaper readership, Roger Drouin is just a city hall reporter. To those of us who read his creative work, he is, at heart, an aspiring novelist.
His characters are feisty, pensive and sometimes jaded. As cynical as reporters can be, Roger’s imagination is still colorful. His characters are sweetly ordinary, believable and honest. Even better, his dialogue is sparse, touching and instinctive.
I credit his journalistic wit. A slave to newspaper inches, Roger has developed a skill for choosing words wisely. Some friends compare his style to that of Florida swamp lit writers, Tim Dorsey and Elmore Leonard. I say give Roger Drouin a few years to ferret out his first novel. With the proper guidance, tools and time, Sarasota’s 29-year-old city hall reporter will hammer out his own story soon enough.